To research 30 Years Of WrestleMania, author Brian Shields interviewed more than 75 people to gather lots of behind-the-scenes insight and anecdotes. Even dedicated followers of the professional wrestling scene may be surprised to learn how some of the matches and storylines unfolded.
ThePostGame: What was the most surprising fact you uncovered during your research?
BRIAN SHIELDS: There were so many facts I discovered while researching and interviewing people for 30 Years Of WrestleMania. The one I return to is learning how much of a financial risk it was for the McMahon's, personally and professionally, to launch the WrestleMania concept.
It's not like WWE shut down their national touring and television programming schedules to launch WrestleMania. Everything was happening at the same time. Everything was on the line. This makes it even more of an achievement from creative and business perspectives. Linda McMahon's quote to begin the first WrestleMania chapter in the book says it all, "We hocked everything we owned for WrestleMania."
TPG: In the chapter on WrestleMania VIII, you devote some space to the controversy of why Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan did not face each other in a WrestleMania main event. What's your personal take on this?
SHIELDS: That's one of the special aspects of this book. The history of what happened in front of the cameras is celebrated while readers are also taken behind the scenes.
For fans of a certain era, historians, and aficionados of the genre, the Flair-Hogan match that didn't take place at WrestleMania VIII is one of WWE's greatest mysteries. Most people have an opinion but are unable to cite the reason.
As for my opinion, I'm not sure why we didn't see the match. There could be many reasons. Both men competed in the ring that day. Ric Flair had a fantastic match with Randy Savage for the WWE Championship. I think people were disappointed that the Hulk Hogan-Sid Justice match ended in a "Disqualification," but loved the return of the Ultimate Warrior.
I just don't know. I can say with confidence that I think 30 Years of WrestleMania readers will enjoy how the subject is handled and hearing the opinions of WWE luminaries as to why they think the match didn't happen. Like many WWE-related topics, it's a fun conversation to have.
TPG: WrestleMania started a tradition from its first event of bringing celebrities into the mix with Muhammad Ali and Liberace. Of those you interviewed for the book, which one was truly a wrestling fan who understood the history and the ins and outs of the business?
SHIELDS: This is a three-way tie between "Iron" Mike Tyson, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, and Larry King and here's why:
Mike Tyson grew up a huge fan of WWE during the 1970's and 80's. He idolized Bruno Sammartino. You could tell it was such a thrill for him to be a part of the build-up and main event match at WrestleMania XIV with D-Generation X and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Darryl "DMC" McDaniels has loved WWE since childhood. He used to draw pictures of Bruno Sammartino and started lifting weights because of Hulk Hogan. Run DMC recorded an interview for WWE television promoting their performance at WrestleMania V. You could tell "DMC" was ready to get in the ring. Our conversation about WWE, the characters, the athletic demands and story telling abilities of the talent was great. He regularly attends WWE events.
The first 10 minutes of my conversation with Larry King was him telling me about how he listened to wrestling on the radio as a child and then watched it on television. One of his favorite wrestlers was Antonino Rocca, whose entry I wrote for the WWE Encyclopedia. That was a fun way to begin our discussion.
Mr. King has such admiration for the athleticism and production value of WWE, the McMahon family, and what WrestleMania has become. He's hosted several interviews with WWE including a special panel discussion before WrestleMania XXIV. He continues to work with the company today.
TPG: WrestleMania has featured many special-stipulation matches, such as a ladder match, a Chicago Street Fight and the Fatal Four-Way. Do you have a personal favorite?
SHIELDS: In general, I've always loved a good Steel Cage Match. Interestingly enough, sans Hell In A Cell, we've only seen one steel cage match at a WrestleMania, and that was Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy in the main event of WrestleMania 2.
A personal favorite now are ladder matches, whether it's stipulated as a Ladder Match, TLC, or Money In The Bank. What WWE and its superstars have done over the years with ladder matches, especially at WrestleManias, have been unreal.
To see what the competitors are doing physically, the athleticism, and risks taken are beyond comprehension to me. Add to that the nuances of how suspense and excitement are created and fluctuate through the story of the match, it's incredible. Fans are taken on an amazing thrill ride.
TPG: Of all the WrestleManias you have attended in person, which had the best in-arena atmosphere?
SHIELDS: I've been fortunate to attend seven WrestleManias. My first was WrestleMania X-8 at the SkyDome in Toronto. The energy in the city of Toronto and in SkyDome for the Hollywood Hogan vs. The Rock match was something I had never experienced before -- and before that I had been to Yankees World Series games, Giants NFL and Knicks NBA playoff games in New York.
I was also part of the audiences for WrestleMania's XXIV to 29. They were phenomenal crowds. The atmosphere at WrestleMania 29 at Met Life Stadium may have been the best. I might be biased, but I think there's something extra special when WWE's in the New York City area.
WrestleMania 29 saw the WrestleMania debut of The Shield and Ryback, in-ring debuts of Fandango and Big E., Brock Lesnar v. Triple H, CM Punk v. Undertaker and the second main event with John Cena v. The Rock -- this time for the WWE Championship. It was like all of the people I crossed paths with in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were talking about WrestleMania.
I was finishing the book so I was not in New Orleans for WrestleMania XXX. The people I spoke with who were there said the atmosphere in the Superdome was incredible. The adage is true. There's nothing like WrestleMania.
TPG: With so many great WrestleMania matches in 30 years, is there one that you have a particular affinity toward, even if it hasn't been designated as an all-time classic by the general public?
SHIELDS: Over WrestleMania's 30 years, there are so many matches that have captured my imagination -- and each for different reasons.
A part of me always goes back to Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant from WrestleMania III as the epitome of the one-time showdown -- the ultimate good versus the ultimate evil. Then I think of the intensity and athleticism of Steamboat vs. Savage, also from WrestleMania III. The Iron Man Match with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania XII, Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin from WrestleMania 13, The Hardys vs. The Dudleys vs. Edge & Christian from WrestleMania 2000, Hogan vs. Rock from WrestleMania X-8, and many others.
I also think of certain rivalries. The three matches Undertaker and Triple H had are outstanding. I enjoyed the John Cena-Rock matches very much. I think of the greatness of The Streak and that Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock headlined three WrestleManias. That's an incredible achievement. CM Punk's match with Undertaker... I thought Daniel Bryan's journey to WrestleMania XXX and leaving as WWE World Heavyweight Champion was awesome.
But one match: The first Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels match at WrestleMania 25 is the greatest match I've ever seen.
TPG: What venue would you like to see host WrestleMania for the first time?
SHIELDS: AT&T Stadium. Dallas, Texas. Hands down. There are other venues and cities in North America that would be wonderful first time hosts. But next, I'm hoping for Dallas. After that, I'd love to see a WrestleMania at Wembley Stadium in London.
TPG: What's your favorite WWE/WWF match from the pre-WrestleMania era?
SHIELDS: For the matches I watched as a child in the pre-WrestleMania era I must take it back to 1983. Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka vs. The Magnificent Muraco in a Steel Cage Match for the Intercontinental Championship at Madison Square Garden. It was featured on "The WWF's Most Unusual Matches" VHS as part of the Coliseum Video series. Just watch the match. "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers is in Snuka's corner. You can here the crowd become unglued after each move. What happens at the end remains one of the most talked about moments in WWE history.
I also loved the special tag team main events when Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant teamed against members of the Heenan Family.
This is another area that I think of rivalries. I think of the battles Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka had with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I remember Tito Santana's wars with Greg "The Hammer" Valentine over the Intercontinental Championship. WWE aired footage from Santana's real-life knee surgery. There was a period, even pre-WrestleMania, where the Intercontinental Champion was known for having the best, or one of the best matches on the card at every WWE event.
I loved learning about the legacy of Bruno Sammartino and his matches with the likes of Killer Kowalski, Fred Blassie, Don Leo Jonathan, The Sheik, and others. The "Superstar" Billy Graham vs. Dusty Rhodes matches from the late 70's are must-see. So is the Sgt. Slaughter vs. Pat Patterson "Alley Fight."
As an aside, I can't emphasize enough the greatness of the Coliseum Video VHS series. I think for the younger fans of today, the WWE Network can be, in the way of seeing things you won't necessarily see on WWE television, what Coliseum Video was for fans of the 1980's through mid 90's. I have all of my original Coliseum Videos.
TPG: Better special-guest performance: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam-Bam Bigelow or Floyd Mayweather vs. The Big Show?
SHIELDS: That's a tough one because they were different. Lawrence Taylor was participating in a traditional WWE singles match as a wrestler. Floyd Mayweather was entering a "No Disqualification" match as a boxer. Both special guests benefited greatly from the versatility and athleticism of their WWE opponent.
I liked both matches but I'll go with L.T., and not because I'm a Giants fan, especially this season. It was a bit more one-on-one. I liked his athleticism in the match. L.T. ran the ropes, jumped from the middle rope and performed maneuvers in the ring. I liked that Lawrence Taylor trained for a WWE match and we saw him utilize what he learned. Because of his background as a football player and the type of match it was it made sense.
There were debates on if the L.T. vs Bam Bam match should've been the main event. But everyone I spoke with about WrestleMania XI agreed that Bam Bam Bigelow's many talents made him the perfect opponent for Lawrence Taylor.
TPG: How did you react to The Undertaker's WrestleMania winning streak ending at WrestleMania XXX?
SHIELDS: I was in complete shock. In that moment, all of the previously fallen opponents flashed in my mind.
As someone writing the book on the 30-year history of WrestleMania, the shock remained. I couldn't write fast enough. I just couldn't believe it. I immediately thought of the special spread in the book we were working on commemorating the Streak. The DK design team did an incredible job capturing the enormity of the Streak coming to an end. I think readers will love it.
-- Brian Shields is an author of 30 Years Of WrestleMania, published by DK BradyGames. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Brian Shields on Twitter @ItsBrianShields.